TALLAHASSEE – A Florida state appeals panel has reversed a Judge of Compensation Claims decision that denied a man who was diagnosed with occupational-induced asthma continued medical care, costs and attorneys’ fees.
On March 20, a three-judge panel of the Florida First District Court of Appeal reversed the ruling by the Judge of Compensation Claims that denied Geoffrey Meehan's claims against Orange County Data and Appraisals and Johns Eastern Company Inc., for medical care, costs and attorney fees, allegedly relating to exposure to asbestos at work.
"Because the parties entered into a broad stipulation in which the employer/carrier (E/C) accepted compensability of the work-related exposure and 'building related illness' and the E/C failed to demonstrate a break in the causal chain, we agree, and reverse and remand the order on appeal," Judge M. Kemmerly Thomas wrote in the unanimous opinion.
Meehan worked in an Orlando building between 1995 and 1997 that was found to have asbestos. According to court papers, Meehan began to experience breathing problems and reported his illness to his employer. In 1997, Meehan received medical care from a pulmonologist who diagnosed him in 2002 with “recurrent sinus, acute bronchitis, reactive airway disease, rhinitis, sinusitis, rhinosinopulmonary syndrome, and occupational-induced asthma.” The E/C paid for his medical care and treatment, court papers said.
Some 15 years later, Meehan received notice from the E/C that payment for further medical treatment was being terminated based an independent medical evaluation. According to the E/C, "the work accident was no longer the major contributing cause of the need for medical treatment."
According to court documents, the evaluation concluded that Meehan had vocal cord dysfunction, unrelated to workplace exposure, and not asthma, and therefore no longer needed asthma medication as previously prescribed.
Meehan filed an appeal arguing that the E/C cannot deny his claim for medical treatment because it had previously stipulated to compensability of the conditions by the treating physician.
Thomas found that the E/C had "established only that there may exist a dispute in the appropriate diagnosis but that the building-related illness associated with indoor air quality” suffered by Meehan, albeit potentially varying in degree, remained. The conditions and symptoms for which the E/C accepted responsibility continue to be experienced by Meehan.
Chief Judge Bradford L. Thomas and Judge Harvey L. Jay III concurred with Judge Thomas' opinion.